Dodgers 2018 Player Grades: Ross Stripling, the “Forgotten Man”

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 9: Ross Stripling #68 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning of a game at Coors Field on August 9, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 9: Ross Stripling #68 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning of a game at Coors Field on August 9, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /
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Ross Stripling. If only he could have stayed healthy and stayed in the rotation. Stripling was one of the best surprises of the Dodgers 2018 season. While injuries ravished the team early on in the season, Stripling kept the team afloat along with Max Muncy and Matt Kemp in May and had a stellar first half, earning himself his first ever All-Star game nod.

He even had one of the best single month’s in recent baseball history, as discovered by Fangraph’s Jeff Sullivan.

"“That’s Stripling’s May there, in 11th place. Obviously, this measure isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t give pitchers extra credit for, say, working deeper, but the important take-home message is this: Stripling’s performance has been extraordinary, and it’s very, very hard to do what he’s done without being a legitimately very good starting pitcher”"

Stripling did fall off in the second half though and ended up missing the Dodgers postseason rosters on their way to the World Series. In his final few months of the season, from July to October, Stripling pitched to a 4.84 ERA with just 47 strikeouts in 44.2 innings pitched. His lack of performance and missing the playoff roster caused him to fade from the spotlight, but he really could have just put up the first career year in what could be a long string of solid seasons for the big right-hander.

Stripling is turning 29 on November 23, and thus will presumably remain in his athletic prime for the next few seasons. In his last three years, he has made just 37 starts, but 24 of these came last season. Hopefully, he gets a chance to earn himself a rotation spot in Spring Training next season. Because he earned it.

Discounting recency bias, Stripling had an amazing full season, largely due to his first half. From March to June, Stripling never had an ERA over 2.50, with his best month being May, during which he had a 1.20 ERA and 1.21 FIP in 30 innings. His final first-half line was a 2.08 ERA with 108 strikeouts, with just 14 walks in 95.1 innings. His control was one of his best aspects this season, as he finished 4th in the majors in K/BB this season (minimum 120 innings) with a ratio of 6.18, as he struck out 10.03 per nine innings, good for the highest mark of his career.

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Stripling was so good largely due to his ability to pitch out of trouble. With runners in scoring position this season, Stripling was able to buckle down and get himself out of jams. In his 26.1 innings with runners in scoring position this season, Stripling held opposing hitters to a triple slash line of .170/.230/.237.

In bearing down with runners in scoring position, Stripling was able to have the second highest strand rate in baseball at 86.1% (min. 120 innings), trailing only the AL Cy Young award winner Blake Snell. Even if this rate is somewhat unsustainable, Stripling definitely took a big step forward this season in terms of solidifying his talent at limiting baserunners.

On the flipside, Stripling gives up lots of home runs. He had the 14th-worst HR/FB rate in baseball at 16.4% and a BABIP against of .322, which was the 9th-worst in baseball (both minimum 120 innings pitched).

Now these may seem fluky, but looking at the other names on the bottom of the HR/FB and BABIP lists, like Chris Archer and Sonny Gray, demonstrates what may be an underlying cause: Stripling just gives up too much hard contact. Stripling had the 72nd-worst hard contact % in baseball this season, as 33.2% of the contact he gave up was high quality.

This statistic explains the disparity between his success in ERA, but seemingly-high BABIP and HR/FB. Had he just been unlucky, he would not have given up as much hard contact as he did.

Another indicator that Stripling struggled to avoid giving up hard contact is the Pitcher Info pitch value rating of his fastball. Stripling had a -0.2 rating on his fastball by this measure according to Fangraphs, which made his the 55th-worst fastball in baseball last season.

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Though he really did become the “Forgotten Man” by the end of the season, Stripling had a first half that while stellar, probably was a little fluky and barring any changes that help him combat the quality of combat he gives up, it would be hard to see him improving upon his 2018 next season. Had he thrown more innings and kept up his strong start for more than just 95.1 innings, Stripling could have turned himself into a mainstay in the Dodger starting rotation for 2019.

2018 Season Grade: B

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